Certified Paralegal (CP) (also referred to as Certified Legal Assistant (CLA)) is the title of qualified paralegals in the United States who have passed the Certified Paralegal Exam and have met additional education and experience requirements for certification as a CP.
The primary function of a CP is to assist attorneys in the delivery of legal services. Through formal education, training and experience, paralegals/legal assistants have knowledge and expertise regarding the legal system and substantive and procedural law which qualify them to do work of a legal nature under the supervision of an attorney.
In order to become a CP in the United States, the candidate must sit for and pass the Certified Paralegal Exam (CP Exam), which is set and administered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) established in 1976. The CP designation is a certification duly registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (No. 78213275).
Paralegals sometimes refer to themselves as "certified" by virtue of completing a paralegal training course, or another type of preparatory education. However, although a school may award a certificate of completion, this is not professional certification. In this instance the school's certificate is designation of completion of a training program.
Eligibility to sit for the CP Exam is determined by NALA. Typically the requirement is graduation from a paralegal program (a) Approved by the American Bar Association; or (b) An associate degree program; or (c) A post-baccalaureate certificate program in paralegal studies; or (d) A bachelor's degree program in paralegal studies; or (e) A paralegal program which consists of a minimum of 60 semester hours (900 clock hours or 90 quarter hours) of which at least 15 semester hours (225 clock hours or 22.5 quarter hours) are substantive legal courses.
Certified Paralegal Exam 
The Certified Paralegal Exam (CP Exam) is given in January, May and September each year. Effective beginning with the September, 2013 testing window, the CP Exam will test applicants on Communications, Ethics, Legal Research, Judgment, Analytical Ability, and Substantive Law (including the American Legal System, Civil Litigation, Contracts, and Business Organizations).
After the May, 2013 testing window, the following optional areas of the examination will no longer be available: Administrative Law, Bankruptcy, Criminal Law & Procedure, Estates and Probate, Family Law and Real Estate.
The Substantive Law section will be the same test for all examinees, as is the case for all other sections of the Certified Paralegal examination.
According to Legal Assistant Today magazine, the CP Exam has a 45-50% pass rate.
Although the CP exam is national, the State Bars of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas have their own certification programs.
NALA requires applicants for CP status to complete a special examination on ethics to become a CP. The CP exam requires knowledge of the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct  and the NALA Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility.
Continuing Legal Education (CLE) 
CPs are required to take continuing legal education courses in order to renew their certification. As part of the CLE requirement, CPs must also incorporate ethics courses during every renewal period. The CP credential will be revoked from all Certified Paralegals failing to meet the recertification requirements after a period of probation. The paralegal must then retake the CP examination to use the credential again.
NALA Membership 
CPs, at their option, may also choose to become members of the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA). Benefits of membership in NALA range from discounts on seminars, webcasts, conventions, etc. that qualify for continuing legal education credits to protecting the public and profession's interests by tracking and lobbying legislative issues that affect paralegals nationwide.
CPs who maintain NALA memberships are required to follow the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct and the NALA Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility in addition to any code enforced by the state regulatory authority, further reassuring clients that the CP is an ethical business professional who can be trusted to handle confidential personal and business legal matters.
Advanced Certified Paralegal (ACP) 
After a paralegal obtains the CP credential, he or she is eligible to participate in the Advanced Paralegal Certification program. The credential awarded after successful completion of the program is the "ACP" credential. A CP must complete an ACP course and pass an exam which demonstrates advanced knowledge in the specific practice area or areas of practice in which the course is taken. Currently, a CP can seek advanced certification in the following areas: Contracts Management/Contracts Administration; Discovery; Social Security Disability; Trial Practice; Alternative Dispute Resolution; Business Organizations: Incorporated Entities; Trademarks; Personal Injury - Core Course; Personal Injury; Land Use; Criminal Litigation; Commercial Bankruptcy; and Family Law-Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation.
Background and Numbers 
According to NALA, as of March 15, 2013, there are 17,410 Certified Paralegals  and as of April 2, 2013 there are 2,943  Advanced Certified Paralegals in the United States. More than 25,000 paralegals have participated in this program.